Tonight marks the end of perhaps the most dramatic playoff series in history. If the Blackhawks can win in Vancouver tonight it will be the greatest playoff series comeback ever. Only 4 other teams have comeback from 3-0 series deficit to win, the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers, the 2004 Boston Red Sox, the 1975 NY Islanders, and the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs. What makes the opportunity for the Blackhawks tonight so great is the difference in the standings, the Blackhawks are the 8 seed who won 10 few games than the Canucks. The other teams that came back where not nearly the underdogs going into the series that the Blackhawks are. Last year’s Flyers team was the 7 seed but they beat 6th seeded Boston; the Flyer’s record last season 41-35-6, the Bruins 39-30-13. The Red Sox, the only non-hockey team to make the comeback was 98-64 winning only 3 fewer games than the Yankee’s team they beat, not to mention they are the only team even close to spending with the Yankees. The ’75 series between the Islander and Penguins, the teams were seperated by only 1 point in the standings. The 1942 Leafs were 27-18-3, they came back to beat the 19-25-4 Red Wings team to win the cup. In other words, each of the other series should have been close except maybe the 1942 Cup finals which probably should have been a sweep in the Leafs favor. On paper the Blackhawks should never have been in this series.
History aside, tonight’s game is too close to call. The Canucks spent all season trying to show us that they had grown up. That they were done playing stupid, that they weren’t going to complain about officials, that Luongo really is an elite goaltender. For the first 3 game of this series that all appeared to be true. Since then the real Canucks have come out. Over the last three playoff series in games where either the Blackhawks or Canucks can close out the series Luuuuu has a 5.20 GAA as a result of his .838 SV%; earning him a 1-5 record. As for not complaining about the refs, that has been all the fans, media, and GM Mike Gillis have done the last few days.
As a Hawks fan a win tonight would be sweet; for me at least beating Vancouver is more fun than beating anybody else, yes even the Red Wings. I simply can’t stand the Canucks. Hartford would like their mascot and color scheme back, the Hurricans wouldn’t mind the Rick Flair “WOOOO” goal celebration returned, and I’m pretty sure there already had been a team in Canada named for the Canadian people well before the Canucks. But beyond the rampant copycatism it is the Alex Burrows hair pulling, the confidence that isn’t deserved, the creepiness of the twins, Luongo becoming Side Show Bob, and the fans defending Todd Bertuzzi. But more than anything else its the persecution complex from the organization all the way down to most of the fans. This is an organization that built a statue to Rodger Neilson complaining about the refs. Where was the complaining early in the series when a dirty play knocked Tomas Kopecky out of the series just 5 minutes in? Why should Bickell have been suspended for hitting Bieksa who had the puck when Torres didn’t get suspended for hitting Seabrook who didn’t?
Many Canucks fans and perhaps the organization itself feels that they are cursed. Sorry Canucks fans, your team is cursed just as much as my Chicago Cubs are. Cursed not from outside influences like the refs, a goat, or Steve Bartman but cursed from players who can’t get it done when it matters. Its Luongo doing his best Alex Gonzalez impression and Alain Vigneault making poor decisions just like Dusty Baker did. The Sedins have disappeared and taken Ryan Kesler with them. Its break down after break down year after year, not a grand conspiracy or supernatural powers.
As for the Blackhawks, they’ve shown the heart of a champion. Dave Bolland came back from the grave and totally flipped this series. While many of the Hawks stars have been held in check, the role players have stepped up and outplayed their counterparts. I’d be lying if I said I was completely confident going into tonight’s game. The Blackhawks have been a roller coaster all season. I find myself having faith though based on not only on a team lead by Jonathan Toews fighting until the end but because Luongo is in goal. The Blackhawks are simply the more mentally stable team in game that will put significantly more pressure on the Canucks.
The Bryan Bickell injury is big, though not as big if Tomas Kopecky can return. If Kopecky can go, he belongs on the top line with Toews and Kane, freeing Toews to move from the front of the net. Troy Brouwer or Viktor Stalberg should then skate with Bolland and Frolik who have been red hot for the last three games. For the first time all season the Blackhawks look like the team from last year. Much has been made about the number of shots the Canuck were taking late in game 6, but most of them came from the outside and bad angles. The pressure is all on the Canucks, if the Hawks can play a solid game and avoid the turnovers that lead to goals early in the series and in game 6 the Canucks will get frustrated, and then snap. An early Blackhawks goal will put an already nervous fanbase over the edge and create a home-ice disadvantage. Its the formula the Hawks used to win game 5, do it again.
The Hawks are one game from the greatest comeback ever, yet it feels more like the Canucks are on the verge of the greatest collapse. The NHL has been running “History Will Be Made” ads for the last few post-seasons and tonight, if the Blackhawks win, that statement will never have been truer.